We complained several times to poll panel, says Metre
The politicisation of sugar factories remains a key issue for the elections in Bidar district.
In every election, candidates complain that sugarcane factories harass cultivators, and should be controlled by the government. While some leaders pressure the government to take over the cooperative factories, others promise to set up new ones.
Farmers’ leaders say their problems are compounded as these sugar factories are often used as political tools by their owners or chairpersons of the cooperative societies which run them.
“In the past, we have seen politicians who own factories or banks misuse these institutions for electoral gains. Factories offer incentives, like quicker crushing of sugarcane or releasing payments. Some factories will even refuse to buy produce or stop the release of dues if farmers do not do as they ask,” Siddappa Metre, Karnataka Pradesh Raitha Sangha district president, said here.
“In the last general elections, we complained to the Election Commission and asked it to evolve a mechanism to stop such misuse,” he added.
The district is blessed with around 900 mm of rain for over 65 days a year. Three of the five taluks boast laterite soil, and the water table is as shallow as 100 feet at most places.
These factors make sugarcane a favoured crop, even though farmers don’t have assured irrigation facilities. Bidar has three cooperative sugar factories, and two more are coming up in the private sector. There are at least 10 mini sugar factories and five distilleries in the district. Sugarcane is grown on over 30,000 hectares of the total cultivable land in the district, 3.5 lakh hectares. Since barely 11.6 per cent of the land is irrigated, farmers depend on groundwater to support the sugarcane crop.
Leaders with benefits
Leaders of several parties are associated with sugar factories, such as Sanjay Kheny, BJP’s candidate for Bidar South in the 2008 elections, who is the chairman of the Bidar Sahakari Sakkara Karkhane; KJP leader Gurupadappa Nagamarapalli, chairman of the Naranja Sahakari Sakkare Karkhane; and Bheemanna Khandre, AICC member and chairman of the Mahatma Gandhi Sahakari Sakkare Karkhane, Mr. Metre said.
Leaders Prakash Khandre of the BJP and Naseemoddin Patel of the JD(S) are both building sugar factories while D.K. Sidram of the KJP has announced his plans to construct a new sugar factory. This is why major political parties don’t make this an election issue, Mr Metre points out.
Stopping the misuse
P.C. Jaffer, Deputy Commissioner and District Electoral Officer, said he was aware of the issue, and was working on finding a solution.
“The Election commission of India has clearly spelt out the problem in the latest set of instructions. We have been asked to take steps to stop the misuse of such institutions. We have already warned managing directors of all factories that stringent action will be taken if they or their employees are found campaigning or involved in any electoral activity. We will also come up with an action plan to ensure that factory personnel are not misused,” he said.